The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

2011: Hike into the Grand Canyon – A Candidate for “Worst Day of My Life”

On our 13-day trip, there was only one bad day: April 26, the day we hiked down into the Grand Canyon. And it was bad, bad, bad.

We had hiked down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch twice before. This was our third trip. We are not power hikers or Canyon junkies, but we were not rookies.

Let me be very clear: we had done this previously. We knew what was involved.

So … what went wrong? Two things, primarily. One was our doing and preventable, and the second was completely out of our control.

The mistake was that we decided to eat breakfast on the trail. Before, we started off after a fairly large breakfast, but the thought was that energy bars on the trail would allow us to get an earlier start and earlier arrival. It backfired, and this was my fault. We had a light breakfast, and at 1.5 Mile House, Dave ate energy bars. I changed out of my long underwear (it was cold!) in the restrooms, and decided I wasn’t hungry enough to eat more than a couple of bites of one energy bar. By time we were within sight of 3 Mile House, I had a horrible leg cramp and had to sit alongside the trail and eat something. An English muffin and a cup of coffee are not enough food for 3 miles of difficult hiking. I had been drinking enough, including electrolyte replacement. It was the lack of food that caused the problem. I was rattled and, since I always find the hike down to be difficult, I stayed rattled. But this was the lesser of the two problems.

The big problem, the one completely out of our control, was the wind.

At the time of this hike, the country was being savaged by tornadoes in various regions. The Grand Canyon was beset by high winds, too, though not of a destructive nature. Still, it ruined our hike down, which was difficult to begin with and compounded by my leg cramp. We’re estimating the winds in the Canyon to have been up to 40 miles per hour. Walking into the wind was like pushing against a wall; winds from the side and back affected balance. It was the desert, and the wind dried us out. When exercising, people often breathe through their mouths, and the dry wind just sucked the moisture out of us. As Dave said, it was like walking into a hair dryer. It was an awful, miserable experience, and we soon learned that we weren’t the only ones who felt that way.

And to top it all off, I have balance issues going down. It’s not always obvious where to place my feet. (Going up is fine.) Hiking down, especially on a steep trail, is hard on the joints as well. Dave’s knee was wonky to begin with, so this was also tough for him, in addition to the wind.

So I eventually started unravelling. Part of me, the core part, knew I would complete the hike and be fine. The external part of me was completely miserable and immersed in despair. I think if we had had an additional problem of any sort, we would have been in serious trouble.

And this is why I am never doing this hike again. It taxed us to the extreme the first two times we did it. This third time was just too hard. It wasn’t safe.

I did take pictures on the way down, though not as many as usual:

Next up: Phantom Ranch, where everything immediately became wonderful.


June 25, 2011 - Posted by | Arizona, Grand Canyon, national parks, travel, weather | , , ,


  1. It was one mother of a walk.

    Comment by Dave Hughes | June 26, 2011 | Reply

  2. […] 2011: Hike into the Grand Canyon – A Candidate for “Worst Day of … The mistake was that we decided to eat breakfast on the trail Before, we started off after a fairly large breakfast but the thought was that energy bars on the trail would allow us to get an earlier start and earlier arrival. In July of 2008, I recounted my experience with Eddie, giving pictures and advice to those considering tube-feeding. If you're looking at this photo, that's probably why you're here. There have been thousands of hits on this […]

    Pingback by Considering Trail Breakfast | June 27, 2011 | Reply

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